While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for June 14

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Employees’ lawsuit thrown out. A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by employees of a Houston hospital system over its requirement that all of its staff be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Houston Methodist Hospital system suspended 178 employees without pay last week over their refusal to get vaccinated. Of them, 117 sued seeking to overturn the requirement and over their suspension and threatened termination.

In a scathing ruling Saturday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston deemed lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges’ contention that the vaccines are “experimental and dangerous” to be false and otherwise irrelevant. He also found that her likening the vaccination requirement to the Nazis’ forced medical experimentation on concentration camp captives during the Holocaust to be “reprehensible.”

Hughes also ruled that making vaccinations a condition of employment was not coercion, as Bridges contended.

“Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else. If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired. Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for remuneration. That is all part of the bargain,” Hughes concluded.

National cases declining. New COVID-19 cases are declining across most of the country, even in some states with vaccine-hesitant populations. But almost all states bucking that trend have lower-than-average vaccination rates, and experts warn that relief from the pandemic could be fleeting in regions where few people get inoculated.

Case totals nationally have declined in a week from a seven-day average of nearly 21,000 on May 29 to 14,315 on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. For weeks, states and cities have been dropping virus restrictions and mask mandates, even indoors.

Experts said some states are seeing increased immunity because there were high rates of natural spread of the disease, which has so far killed nearly 600,000 Americans.

“We certainly are getting some population benefit from our previous cases, but we paid for it,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. “We paid for it with deaths.”

More than 7,300 Mississippians have died in the pandemic, and the state has the sixth-highest per capita death rate.

Lockdown extended in England. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm Monday that the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed as a result of the spread of the delta variant first identified in India.

While hosting the Group of Seven summit in southwest England, Johnson conceded over the weekend that he had grown more pessimistic about the government lifting remaining limits on social contact on June 21 after daily cases reported across the U.K. hit levels not seen since February.

“Clearly, what you’ve got is a race between the vaccines and the virus, and the vaccines are going to win,” he told the BBC. “It’s just a question of pace.”

With the delta variant estimated by some health experts to be at least 60% more contagious than the previous dominant strain, British scientists and doctors urged the prime minister to err on the side of caution and postpone implementing the fourth stage of his government’s four-step unlocking plan for England.

Future of plexiglass barriers. Along with fist bumps and remote work, another legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the plexiglass fortification of businesses, airports and government buildings.

With the rate of COVID-19 infections falling in the United States, where a vaccine is readily available, coffee shop owners, school administrators and others may be wondering just how long they will keep the barriers in place.

Bloomberg reports that sales of the material tripled during the pandemic, reaching roughly $750 million.

The only problem, however, is that it’s hard to find evidence that the miles of barriers have effectively prevented COVID-19 transmission.

Early in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the coronavirus was spreading on surfaces and through droplets between people at close range – droplets plexiglass barriers are designed to catch. The CDC only fully acknowledged that it could also be transmitted through the air at distances greater than six feet last month.

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